In the town of little old Grblnsk
Where the white flowers bloom in snow
And a monstrous mechanism savages farm implements
And a walking nightmare defends the townspeople
You can find a man
A man with a shadowed past
A man with probably an undiagnosed mental impairment
He is the one you search for
Now don’t bollocks it up
- Ancient Proverb
The wind howled and snow swirled outside Purjus Hobune – The Drunken Horse – as inside, a large fire roared and sparked. Hungry and bored Estonian villagers gathered within the tavern to make merry and stay warm. Bread and sausage remains littered the tables and nearly every conceivable surface was either wet or sticky from spilled beer or Vana Tallinn. In the corner, a large, hideous reptile slept, snoring quietly, a stray cat curled up on its back. It was, for many, idyllic.
Behind the bar, an average-sized (okay, a little stocky) man with brown hair, kind brown eyes, and a light brown stubble washed mugs and placed them carefully under the bar, making sure that they didn’t clink and clank whenever anyone moved. It was a bit anal, perhaps, but the man preferred that kind of anal to the other kind. Wait. No, he didn’t. Still, he liked having that kind of order and made a point to maintain it. Looking out over his patrons, he smiled, content with his life and what he was doing. As a spur of the moment thing, he pulled out a mug of his own and poured himself a beer. To hell with it! The drunken bartender was always the best, right? The few regulars that saw him pour it cheered, knowing that tonight was going to be a fun night. Anytime the bartender was drinking, shit was gon’ be cray.
That’s when the door swung open.
Snow and icy wind blew in the entrance as four men made their way inside, shutting the door far too loudly behind them. They were all dressed in black – because cliché is apparently an operating standard in the world – and looked altogether far too annoyed to be in this remote Estonian village at this time. When the first man spoke, it was gruff and strangely accented, almost as if even the English language was not something with which they were incredibly familiar.
“We look for man of Wifflacor. He here, yes?”
Everyone looked around, confused. The bartender knew exactly what they meant but was going to finish his beer anyway. No punk-ass rude foreigners were going to get in the way of his drinking. The first man asked again, getting angrier.
“You listen! Man of Wifflacor! We know he this place! Bring him us!”
Everyone continued to look confused. The bartender finished his drink and was about to speak when, hell with it, he decided to have another one. These pricks could wait. One of the men in the back grabbed a table and flipped it, sending glass and beer everywhere with a large CRASH. The bartender frowned as he drank. That was just downright aggressive and wasn’t acceptable. Almost as if on cue, a pretty brown-haired woman ran – well, waddled due to her pregnant belly - out of the kitchen, a small brown-haired boy right at her heels.
<Ace! We heard a crash! Is everything okay?>, the woman asked, concerned.
<Yes, Kaija,> the bartender, Ace, responded, in broken Estonian, <Everything is fine. Take Gretzky and go upstairs, will you?>
<Why?> Kaija asked, alarmed, <Is it dangerous?>
<It will be. Go. I love you.>
<I love you.>
With that, she took the little boy by the hand and led him up the stairs and out of the room. Ace finished his beer and set the mug down, cleaning it as the intruders walked around the tavern, questioning the patrons in their weird, broken-human speech. Most of the men in the tavern barely understood English, let alone weirdness, so they were only able to shrug and get back to their conversations and their drinks. The intruders, on the other hand, became considerably more and more agitated the longer the fruitless search went on.
“We want of Wifflacor man! You bring him!”
“Not going to get through to them, muchacho,” Ace said, not bothering to look up from the mug he was cleaning, “Their grasp of English is rudimentary at best and that garbledy-shit you’re talking? No chance of even communicating. Sorry.”
He still didn’t look up, even as he heard and felt the four men move to the bar, the smell of sulfur leaking from them like a dysenteric toddler after a three-course fast food Mexican dinner. Their heat was surprisingly intense and he had to blink his eyes a few times to clear away the sweat that was already starting to drip. When the first man spoke, it was with a guttural snarl.
“You! Englisher! Speak to Wifflacor and bring hims now!”
Ace’s eyes flicked up to meet those of the man leaning over the counter. He maintained his calm, even though he saw the total wrongness on the face of the man. The proportions were all messed up. The face was too long, the mouth too wide, the nose too stubby, the brows too thick, and the eyes too…there was frankly no explaining the eyes except to say that they looked like a cow’s – big, stupid, and a little goggly. Something wasn’t right here. Obviously.
“Demon or what?” Ace asked.
“Are you a demon or what are you? You’re clearly not human. Not with that face anyway. I mean, as far as passing for an actual person, you’ve put forward about the weakest effort I’ve seen yet. So, I’ll ask again: are you a demon or what?”
“Am no demon!”
“Alright, I’ll believe you. What are you then?”
“Am human mans! Obvious is!”
“Okay,” Ace said with a sigh, “whatever you say. What do you want Wifflacor for? He’s a friend of mine and I don’t want to toss him to whatever you are without a good reason.”
“He…not your business!” the wrong man sputtered out, a bit flustered.
“It is my business, so tell me what you want.”
“Maybe we kill all you and take him?”
This butthole was obviously tired of discussion and all of the other men moved in tandem with him to enforce the threat. Ace sighed again. Couldn’t have been easy, he supposed. He nodded his head to them in deference.
“Fair enough. I’ll play along. He’s in the back. Let me go get him for you, alright?
“You will speed!”
Ace walked into the kitchen and there was the sound of banging and crashing as things were moved around. The men at the bar looked overly pleased with themselves, smug in their belief that they had intimidated a poor bartender into carrying out their will and all it took was a weak threat. After a moment, Ace came walking out, holding a large shotgun. The men at the bar were confused.
“I’m Ace Wifflacor, bitch, and this is my boomstick,” Ace growled.
The head of the lead man exploded in a shower of fake hair, rubber, green blood, and one-half of a set of mandibles. Not human. Mantid. The body crashed to the ground and the other three men shrieked in fear, confusion, and a little bit of pain in their brains. This was not supposed to happen. It was supposed to be far easier than this but –
“You Venusian pricks,” Ace laughed, “You really thought you could come in here and take down the big dog? Me?”
A second one flew back, smashing into the wall, and landing on the floor, its pincers working frantically to get out of the fake hands so it could pin together its now-shattered carapace. The last two stood still, completely in shock.
“How many of you are there?” Ace asked, trying to keep them off-guard.
“How many of you are there? You know I know that you never send just four, especially not a raiding party, and especially especially not when you’re trying to take a high-value target like Monsieur Awesome here. In fact, I’d wager that you probably have another twenty of you jagoffs outside, including one of your brood fathers acting as a sergeant. Am I right?”
The disguised mantids just stared at Ace, really unsure of what to do. Ace sighed.
The third one went down, a pincer attached to an arm skidding across the floor, the former owner collapsing to the ground and chittering in anguish. The fourth immediately turned and tried to bolt out the door. Ace whistled.
“Rufie. Warning shot.”
The knockoff velociraptor sprang out of his deep sleep in an instant and snarled, the rumbling ramping up in volume until it was a horrifying reptilian howl. The fourth Venusian wisely decided to stay put, especially given the fact that Rufie had made his way across the floor and was currently growling quietly in the Venusian’s face. Ace came up right behind him and whispered in his ear.
“Bring. It. On. Outside. Ten minutes. Go.”
With a slap on the ass, Ace sent the scout tearing off through the door. He laughed as he went to the stairs and called up to his family, in English this time.
“Kaija! Gretzky! It’s the bug people again. We’re going to have a rumble outside in about ten minutes. Do you want to watch?”
“No!” she called back and he rolled his eyes.
“Fine! Will you at least wake up Papa? I would like his help since there are probably twenty more of them outside.”
A disgusted groan from upstairs, but she went down the hall anyway. Ace could hear her talking quietly to Papa in Estonian, followed by an excited grunt and movement. Papa did always enjoy a good rumble. A minute later, the gigantic man made his way down the stairs, fully gray-haired now but just as large, just as covered in flannel, and just as ready for a fight – maybe even more so now that his grandchild – grandchildren, counting the one in his daughter’s belly - could be in danger. In his paw of a left hand, Papa carried his ‘problem solver’, a six-inch thick, four-foot long tree branch studded with knotholes and wrapped in a rusty bike chain. The only modification – save the bike chain – that Papa had made was carving grooves into the bottom eighth of the branch where his fingers could slot in for a stronger grip. Essentially, he created a weapon that was an extension of his own massive arm. Papa had never used his ‘problem solver’. In fact, even the threat of getting it was always enough to resolve even the most bitter blood feud. Ace admitted privately that he was excited to see it get used for once.
<Do you have your weapon, Ace?> Papa grumbled and Ace tossed his shotgun to Kaija, who had come downstairs with Gretzky because she couldn’t lie to herself – she wanted to see the two most important men in her life splatter some aliens.
<Of course, Papa,> he said, reaching behind the counter of the bar to pull out his own versions of the ‘problem solver’.
In lieu of the massive girth of Papa’s weapon, Ace had opted for a more…edged twist. He had two weapons. The first, an aluminum baseball bat, had been welded with several rail spikes. Every edge possible had been sharpened to a razor-like fineness and even the very top of the bat had been sheared into a pyramid shape. The grip had leather straps tied around it which, when tied, anchored the bat to Ace’s right arm so it couldn’t be taken away. Worst-case scenario, the bat was knocked out of his hand and became a flail of unimaginable destructive potential.
The other weapon was one that he kept strapped to his back and only used it in the direst situations, which had been never so far. It was a sword he had found in a cave in Estonia a few months back that had grooves in the blade and a reservoir in the handle that could be filled with lighter fluid and ignited when needed, creating a flaming sword, which was literally the thing that nobody in the universe – human or not – wanted Ace Wifflacor to have power over. Kaija had tried in vain several times to get him to return the sword to the cave because, come on, it was clearly cursed and left there to trap the unsuspecting simple soul that took it and used it, but Ace was not swayed. It was too damn cool.
<I’m ready when you are,” he said to Papa, who nodded.
<Is anyone else going to help?>
The other people in the tavern shrugged. If they were needed, they could rally but they trusted Papa and Ace. Rather, they trusted Papa and Ace probably couldn’t hurt things.
“Cowards,” Ace muttered, but strapped his weapons on, walked to the door, flung it open, and stormed out, ready for battle. Papa followed, slightly proud of his headstrong son-in-law.
Outside, there were not twenty Venusians waiting.
There were sixty.
A full two platoons of chittering, chattering, reeking mantid assholes. Ace’s eyes went wide. This was…considerably more difficult than he had expected. The segmented eyes of all the mantids turned to him and narrowed in anger. Definitely bad.
“I…may have been hasty,” he said, before a particularly large mantid with an eye patch strode out of the mass of insects. This was a brood father, one of their military leaders and, by the looks of it, one that probably had a grudge against Ace, judging by the eye patch.
“Ace Wifflacor, so good you to come!”
Even though it was a leader, it was still not particularly well-versed in human speech. The downfall of their empire, Ace had thought then and thought now.
“I did not expect there to be this many of you or I would not have.”
The mantid made a sound that was probably analogous to laughter, although it was more of a ‘sand being poured’ hissing noise.
“Tricks and lies! Now you come and nobody hurt.”
“Well, that sure as hell ain’t going to happen, so what’s your next offer?”
“You remember me?”
“I...well, no,” he admitted, “but I was also on a lot of coke at that point so all of you kinda looked the same to me. Still do, honestly.”
“I Bfghjkl! Great brood father of Ecvbhnj! You put sharp in eye when run and now can see bad! You die for insult!”
“Look, man, if it’s any consolation, I probably feel super bad about it, so can I just say I’m sorry and we can get on with this?”
“No! Venus demand blood for – ”
Bfghjkl’s head went soaring off into the darkness, trailing a thin stream of green behind it. Papa lowered his ‘problem solver’, now covered in green, and grunted.
<We kill them now, Ace.>
Ace raised his weapon and charged.
The next several minutes were a bloodbath. While the Venusian hive mind was normally a benefit in battle – and had been used many times to overwhelm human forces – the mind does not work so well when half of the connected brains are screaming in terror and half are trying to quiet things down. As a result, confused buzzing and clicking was their first – and as it turned out, only – line of defense against the destruction coming their way. Green sprays arced into the air as the club and bat smashed thoraxes and sliced off appendages. Within under twenty minutes, the entire force, save three, had been turned into crunchy piles of carapace, ganglia, and ichor. The last three, naturally, were being interrogated.
Okay, the last two.
“Here’s the plan,” Ace said, waving the freshly-bloodied bat under the mandibles of the second mantid in line, “You get on that ship you have hidden in the woods somewhere, you fly back to whoever the hell sent you, and you tell them that your kind is not welcome on this planet anymore. I mean, aside from the country we gave you. And ‘your kind’? Wow, that sounded pretty racist, didn’t it? Speciesist? Is that a word? The point is, get the hell out of here.”
The one he was threatening obeyed instantly. It stood up and absolutely bolted into the woods. Ace laughed because he knew that there was no way it was going to make it. Too many wolves out there. The other mantid, however, stood up and ran into the tavern, coming out a moment later – followed by screams – holding Ace’s son, Gretzky, with his neck in the pincer of the mantid. Ace froze.
“Papa! Daddy!” his boy cried, scared. Ace felt a little spike of pure fury enter his skull.
“Now you turn listen human!” the angry creature garbled out, “I – ”
The head exploded as Kaija fired a shotgun shell directly into it. The body fell down and Kaija walked over, gently pushed Gretzky behind her, and unloaded the rest of the shells into the mantid’s corpse. Seven shells. Without stopping. It was only when the gun started clicking that Ace came over, picked up his son, took the gun from his frenzied wife, and gave her a green-tinted kiss on the cheek. He hugged her close as they walked inside and he spoke.
“That’s my beautiful, unhinged psychopath of a wife! Now let’s get inside. We can get some of the other villagers to come out here and clean the bodies. New special until it runs out: arrogant asshole bugs who think they can come here and mess with us…fried in olive oil.”
The tavern cheered. It was so rarely that they were able to have a different kind of food, so they were completely willing to ignore the source. Variety is variety, after all.
Outside, a wolf howled, deep in the forest.
Here is where I''ll post random stories that aren't, as of yet, in a larger book. Call it a free ride into the mouth of madness, yo.